EDMONTON — A Saskatchewan woman who is worried about losing her eyesight or possibly dying because her surgery for a rare cancer was cancelled in Alberta says the operation has been quickly rescheduled for next week.
Sharon Durham said she learned late Friday afternoon that the surgery is set for next Thursday in Edmonton. She had been told earlier in the week it was off, she said, because she's not an Alberta resident and the province's hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
Durham said she was overwhelmed with joy and relief to learn the surgery will now happen.
“This one is basically going to get rid of the cancer and reconstruct (my nose)," she said.
“I still want my story out there just because I’m not the only one going through this."
Durham, 54, said she was driving to the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton from her farm near Wynyard, Sask., on Monday when she received a call and found out the 18-hour surgery she was to have the next day for invasive cancer in her nose and under her eyes was cancelled.
"The cancer has already spread down to the corner of my left eye, so (the doctor is saying), 'You'll probably be losing your eyesight.' I can deal with that but, if it goes into my brain, I can't deal with that and neither can my family.
"That's game over."
Last month, Alberta Health Services announced non-essential surgeries were being cancelled as hospitals and intensive care capacity were filled beyond normal limits because of the province’s crippling fourth wave of COVID-19.
A spokesman for the health provider said Friday that it is postponing surgeries that don’t need to be performed within a three-day window, which is about 75 per cent of all surgeries.
"We are still doing urgent, emergent and prioritized cancer surgeries. We are doing all we can to complete as many cancer surgeries as possible," said spokesman Kerry Williamson.
Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping said in a statement that his office received a message from Durham's family.
"The minister is deeply sorry to patients whose care is being disrupted by the extreme pressure on our ICUs, including Albertans and patients from other provinces," it said.
"We're doing everything we can to get through this crisis as soon as possible and get back to providing normal care."
Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, has said a majority of patients in intensive care units have COVID-19 and are unvaccinated.
Last week, Saskatchewan suspended its organ donation program due to a lack of staff and intensive care beds — also consequences of the pandemic.
Durham said she can't have the surgery in her home province because no one is specialized enough.
She's scared and angry that Alberta hospitals are prioritizing the health of unvaccinated individuals who are now sick.
"We're just so angry with people not getting vaccinated," she said in tears. "I have family who's not getting vaccinated. I told (them) right out: 'It's because of you and all the other unvaccinated why I'm in this position right now.'"
In April 2020, Durham had a 23-hour surgery to remove cancer in her nose. A surgeon then reconstructed her nose with the help of a screw. She had three more surgeries after that.
Last May, her doctor in Saskatchewan booked an appointment for her to see an Edmonton surgeon to have the screw removed, Durham said.
Three months passed without a call, but she wasn't too worried, she said.
"It looked like it was getting infected, so (the doctor) wanted to take that screw out ... but (he) was pretty sure there was no cancer."
She was finally able to book a consultation in August. When the surgeon saw her, he told her the cancer had returned.
Last Saturday, she was told to prepare for her next surgery. Then it was cancelled.
Durham said she called local members of the legislature every day to try to connect with someone who would listen. Her Edmonton doctor also sent emails arguing her case.
"Just from reading the lab reports ... it's growing quite fast," she said.
"My (mind's) been so busy that I really haven't had a chance to sit and really think about it, and I try not to because I don't want to die."
Durham said the surgeon's office is to contact her again on Monday to go over the plan for next week's operation and what to expect.
Doctors are to remove the cancer, remove the remainder of her nose and begin to reconstruct it.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press